The event was well named, because visiting Loch Awe is indeed an adventure.
Coastal Rowing is quickly spreading inshore, and this event has shown one again what close competition you can have on tideless waters. Conditions last Sunday were ideal, with totally still water during most of the event.
The arrival of skiffing on Loch Awe is entirely due to the efforts of Gordon Leveratt and his wife Maggie, making what I hope isn’t too stressful a journey from an organised world to the wonderful anarchy of the skiffies. Having built the lovely Mingulay, he established the KIDS (Kilchrennan, Inverinan and Dalavic CRC) and they already have sufficient numbers to justify a second skiff.
Last Summer Gordon invited some local skiffs for a visit, and we rowed down from Kilchrenan to explore Kilchurn Castle. We didn’t know that we were a trial for greater things!
image courtesy Richard Pierce, Luing
image courtesy Richard Pierce, Luing
Dalavich had always been a bit like Brigadoon for me, a place I wasn’t quite sure existed, although I’ve lived nearby for over thirty years. I can confirm, as can fifty tired rowers, that it not only exists, but offers one of the best bases for a skiffing event that you could wish for. There’s plenty of space for parking and unloading, a huge level campsite, cabins available for those who want some luxury, including hobbit rooms, a community centre with a proper hall for ceilidhs and nearby the Wild Rowan Cafe with great home baking.
Gordon had laid on everything for a safe, happy, competitive event, including even a towing buggy to the launch site.
I missed the Friday arrivals and the musical evening with Martin McLaughlin on the bagpipes.
Saturday morning was a bit dreich and rainy at first, but soon cleared to allow a lot of social rows and “try a row” sessions, also some great trips to the dreaded prison island of Ardchonnel and some of the twenty two local crannogs. While I was out with North Queensferry we saw the local osprey take a fish back to her treetop nest, worth the trip for that alone!
We had a great meal in the hall in the evening, followed by the ceilidh hosted by local group All About the Cake, locals Laura Neville, Jane Wilding, Jeannie Holles and Andre van Well playing out of goodwill. The fear an tighe, Guy Neville, managed to get about forty skiffies up to dance a passable Reel of the 51st Division.
image courtesy Chris Mitchell, Kinghorn
Sunday was much brighter, with almost still water.
I had agreed to hold one end of the starting tape, always quite nerve wracking when there’s a biggish fleet on a transit. Despite our general dislike of discipline skiffies do rise to the occasion and the fleet lined itself up straight for a perfect start. All I had to do was pull the trigger, then off for banana cake and coffee while ten crews battled it out.
image courtesy Chris Mitchell, Kinghorn
Being a land based event the distance was 7.4 statute miles from Dalavich to Taychreggan, then a crew change and an individual start for the race back.
The outward race was astonishingly close, with Sandbay from St Andrews covering the distance in 1 hour 16 minutes and 8 seconds, followed by Arran’s Seabhag 22 seconds later, five boats within the next 12 minutes and finally the KID’s own Mingulay on 1 hour 37 minutes.
It’s a great tribute to the Renegades that they made the whole trip without a crew change and achieved times of 1 hour 25 out and 1 hour 39 back.
The fastest boat on the return trip was Seabhag with a run time of 1 hour 19 minutes, followed by six boats in the next twenty minutes, then Blue Bay, Mingulay and finally St Moluag on 1 hour 48.
Combined results made Arran’s Seabhag the overall winners, then Sandbay from St Andrews and Yolande from Kinghorn.
We had a good shore crew working on the times, Heather writing them up and Nigel making sure that the right boats got the right times!
It all ended with a cheery prizegiving and some beautiful trophies.
Years ago at an art show I got in conversation with a very well known major Scottish artist famous for her countryside paintings. who asked me if I painted and when I said I didn't terminated our conversation pretty quickly. Later I realised that if people like me didn't build boats people like her wouldn't have them to paint.
Fife famously liked his boats to be "fast and bonnie" and I think most of us who make them would agree. It's difficult to imagine how one could be motivated to spend a year or two building something plain ugly, but then, I hear you say, there could be some functional beauty? Did Fife's lovely long overhangs really contribute anything other than weight where you don't want it and corners of damp rot?
Above is my wee Christmas Wherry, designed by Walt Simmons of Duck Trap Boatbuilding, which I think is pretty as well as functional. She is seen in her present configuration and colour scheme and has arrived here by quite a tortuous route.
In the early days she had a centreboard, set fairly far aft, and no jib. As a result she tracked along nicely but made a lot of leeway and was a pest to put about. This led to the centreboard being removed and replaced by a dagger board a couple of feet forward, which cured the tacking problem at the expense of introducing quite severe weather helm. In turn this led finally to the jib and bowsprit, resulting in pretty good balance.
The forward dagger board has cleared the internal space, which is better for the crew, but in turn produces the constant problem that one of Argyll's travelling rocks will spring up unexpectedly. When the current season is finished the centreboard is going back in, positioned somewhere between its original place and where the dagger now sits. Here you can see the remains of the original centreboard slot, and the daggerboard box forward.
This image shows another truth about the boats we build, which distinguishes them from artworks. Once they're done we lose interest in maintaining them. The inside is an utter disgrace and will be totally repainted when the centreboard is done.
From the outside the good ship Kelpie still looks ok and the sprit-sail, made by Gayle Heard twentyfive years ago is still setting well.
The sprit is both lovely and functional and an excuse for nice things like rope grommets.
And with a little boat like this you can enjoy extravagances such as the tiny blocks that Harry Spencer made for me in 1990, with farthings for keepers.
Come to think of it, they're also functional as well as pretty.
The story of Ferdinand Laeisz contains lessons for anyone wanting to arrive safely and quickly under sail. That so many of the "Flying P" ships survived into the Twentieth Century to become sail training ships and later museum ships is testament to that.
In the final years of the sailing fleet, when merchant seamen were regarded as expendable and most sailing ships were operated on shoe string budgets as bulk carriers, Herr Laeisz continued to build ships that attracted premium cargos. With the best sails and rigging used in the hardest weather the ships could stand on in virtually all conditions. Captains were retired at forty five and sent to Head Office, while still fresh and competent. Steam tugs based in Hamburg would tow the outgoing ship until clear of the English Channel, then wait there for the next incomer. Compare the appalling losses inflicted on Scottish ships, such as the lovely Firth of Cromarty, blown ashore at St Margarets Bay near Dover on Burns Night 1894 and later wrecked at Corsewall Point in August 1898 by a South Westerly gale.
Herr Laiesz was aware of the problems inherent in policies of marine insurance. A ship could run aground in some part of the world, say South America, remote from the underwriters and have to wait months while communications passed before repairs could be done. His company carried its own insurance, with the Captain equipped with a power of attorney enabling him to pledge the company's credit and commission repairs locally.
Marine insurance is effectively a wager between three parties, shipowner, charterer and freight-owner on one hand and the underwriter on the other with agreed values that the latter will pay out without argument after total loss. It must have been exciting in the early days of the Trans-Atlantic trade when profit from the first voyage paid for the ship, the second the cargo and thereafter pure profit. One can imagine the tough Eighteenth century Glasgow tobacco lords parading the old Tontine hotel and striking bargains.
The hangover of this today is a serious problem for anyone owning a classic sailing yacht, in contrast to a production fibreglass vessel.
If one's floating plastic retreat were to be lost, probably in a marina, as such things rarely venture out to sea, the insurers would simply pay out sufficient to replace her with another, based on the abundance of sales evidence. One's ancient classic, built by one of our legendary yards a hundred years ago, might have been dug out of a mud berth and bought for £1, restored to perfection without counting the cost and now worth simply what someone is willing to pay in a very limited and specialised market place. In the absence of evidence of value will the sum insured come anywhere near the likely cost of repair? Presumably the insurer will apply the average clause and only pay out a fraction.
Yacht Kentra, in need of some minor repairs!
With some classes of yacht, the Garelochs for example, you are not allowed to build a new ship. There is an old story of an owner arriving at Clynder in the old days with a broken hatch cover and asking Mr McGruer to "repair my boat". One has to assume that he didn't expect his insurers to pay for this.
Perhaps the answer is to insure out boats third party only and put aside a sum each year towards potential repairs, taking a hint from Ferdinand Laeisz.